tv Slave and Revolutionary War Spy James Lafayette CSPAN October 23, 2016 4:39pm-6:01pm EDT
in 1781. the smithsonian associates and international spy museum cohosted this 80 minute event. >> good to see all of you here. i am a historian and curator. some of you i know, some of you i am meeting for the first time. i would like to welcome all of you to the spy museum and spy seminar, where we focus on the spies of the american revolution. the first two weeks centered on well-known personalities. you have the --, which has an entire tv show dedicated to it now, and ben franklin is of course ben franklin. next week, we will look at the most infamous spy in u.s. history, benedict arnold. the relative obscurity of james lafayette is what will make this morning so interesting. he is someone we should know more about.
his impact on world history is well known. historians are just now beginning to piece it together to find out new information and understand his impact on the revolution and figure out how he sits among the great heroes and villains of american intelligence history. katherine egner gruber will help us to understand who this enigmatic man really is. she is a curator at jamestown-yorktown foundation and a member of the team responsible for research and development of exhibits in the forthcoming american revolution museum at yorktown, which i will tell you more about today. between 2009-2014, she worked at the colonial williamsburg foundation where she developed the research and production of the field trip series. she served as a library fellow, and most recently was content specialist in the digital history center. although she is a museum professional interested in early american consumerism economy, material culture, and how these aspects of colonial life
translated during the american revolution, she considers herself as an interdisciplinary historian with interests in archaeology, architecture, preservation, and quantitative and digital history. without further ado, kay gruber. [applause] mrs. gruber: good morning. can everyone hear me ok? if you need me to speak up a little bit, somebody wave their hand in the air. how about now? any better? ok, great, thank you. all right, let's get started. you have been watching a lot of this lately. i guess it is pretty popular. i have to admit, i have never seen it. i am 10 years behind on my own popular culture. i figure i will get to "turn" in
2023 or so. that depends on whether we get this new museum opened up. how about either one of these? [laughter] mrs. gruber: surely you know these guys, although i would argue that one of them does not belong in the same picture. or perhaps this is more your speed? and what about her? if popular culture is any indication, tales of spies and espionage have always captured our imagination. there is something about the romance and danger of covert operations, secret identities, quirky gadgets, codewords, agent numbers, invisible ink, savile row, and fancy cars, and of course martinis shaken, not stirred, which i guess it is a little too early for, but maybe later.
thanks to our culture's fascination with the world of spies in our past and present, these elements seem to be part of our collective consciousness of what it means to be a spy. thanks to hollywood, i think that we think we all have a pretty good grasp of what spies look like and the jobs that they do, and the fact that they have to be a little extra careful when selecting a stick of gum, because when is a stick of gum never just a stick of gum in any of those movies, right? with popular culture running rampant with fictional accounts of espionage, there are real historical figures behind all this fiction, men and women who risk their lives in the line of duty. these are real people with real lives and real stories, and i am here today to say that as entertaining as all this fiction is, the real truth, the real american history, is even more fascinating than the fiction. and that is a big part of our mission at the jamestown-yorktown foundation and the galleries and educational programming at the new american revolution museum
in yorktown, a 22,000 square foot permanent exhibition which will open on october 15 in america's historic triangle. let me say that one more time, october 15 in america's historic triangle. [applause] mrs. gruber: obviously this is one of my many shameless plugs you will hear this morning. personal stories unfold in the real-life drama of the 18th century much better than anything on tv, i promise you. it is easy to take that for granted, and we often forget that real people like you and me lived in that extraordinary time and made life or death decisions without the benefit of the hindsight we enjoy today. their actions have consequences, for better or for worse, and because of the extraordinary actions of a very ordinary man, we are here this morning. my lecture is titled james
lafayette, double agent, and after being contacted by the spy museum to present our museum's ongoing research, i thought this title would be reflective of exactly the content that i thought we would be delivering to you today. as a curator at the new museum, i have had the pleasure of helping to expand our museum's scope to include a variety of real life personal stories and our exploration of the american revolution. james lafayette is an incredible part of our story at yorktown, and we made the decision to feature them in our museums 5000 square foot exhibit. it is opening june 2017. [laughter] mrs. gruber: thank you, thank you very much. you are a lovely audience. the special exhibit, which i mentioned will open next summer, will tell surprising stories about the veterans of yorktown who walked off the battlefield to create a new world. we knew that james lafayette was an important part of the story, and so we knew we had to get it
exactly right. six months ago, when i was contacted by the staff at the spy museum to give a lecture about james lafayette, we had in our hands the traditional narrative of james, plucked out of servitude to spy on benedict arnold and cornwallis leading up to the siege of yorktown, running between enemy lines to run information to patriots, and being so impressed with james's ability, cornwallis sent him on his own mission, where james effectively became a double agent, feeding false information to the british while keeping lafayette abreast of the goings on in the camp. james was the perfect spy, and effective double agent only caught during the days after the british surrender when cornwallis himself ventured into the patriot camp and saw james among the marquis' entourage. "oh, you rogue," he exclaimed. "you have been playing the a trick all this time." this is the traditional narrative of james lafayette, and that is the research i expected to present today. this is why the title of the lecture is james lafayette, double agent, but i must admit to you now that the research of these past six months, once we dug further and further into the real primary source of his espionage, very little came to light.
even after 235 years, this aspect of his life still remained shrouded in mystery. i would like to think that is what any good double agent would want, don't you? but i must admit to you now that the research of these past six months, once we dug further and further into the real primary source of his espionage, very little came to light. even after 235 years, this aspect of his life still remained shrouded in mystery. i would like to think that is what any good double agent would want, don't you? so what i will present you this morning is every bit of corroborative, primary source-based research on his life and his times, including the time in which james acted as a spy for the marquis de lafayette, so here is your mission should you choose to accept it.
i invite you to join me this morning as we explore the life and times of james lafayette. backing up a little bit, i want to talk about the history of this research project and the jamestown-yorktown foundation. we came to realize that almost immediately after the revolution, james was mentioned in countless tomes chronicling the activity of enslaved african-americans during the revolutionary war, and his exploits as a spy for the patriots have been recollected time and time again, more often than not with little documentary evidence or basis in historical fact. like a 200-year-old game of telephone, the real factual details of his life became misinterpreted or just plain lost in the archives or in the fires that ravaged many of virginia's colonial and pre-civil war record repositories. so unearthing his story had a lot riding against it, but thanks to generous funding, let me say that one more time,
generous funding, and the truly awesome and inspiring research chops of some of our noted historians of the foundation, including martha mccartney, i want to take a minute to say thank you for all her wonderful information and research. we are pleased to hold the most comprehensive, primary source-based research ever undertaken about this enslaved spy. there we go. i was hoping to save this incredible graphic of james' own signature for a big reveal, but i think is important to address something before we go further. please act surprised and impressed the next time you see this on screen. no primary sources consulted for this research revealed that james ever referred to himself or was known as james armistead. it is our belief that armistead was added later by a biographer who assumed that he took the
last name of his owner when he was enslaved. because the name armistead does not appear in any primary source connected with james, we made the decisionto refer to him simply as james or james lafayette, and that is how i will refer to him for the duration of this presentation. according to his own recollection, james was born around 1748, enslaved and owned by the armistead family, by then well established in new kent county. in 1654, new kentwas created with boundaries defined as the frontier. the armistead family quickly became leaders in the community and held offices such as wardens, rose through the ranks of county militia, and ran mercantile establishments around williamsburg. that member of the armistead family most closely associated with james is william armistead junior, born january 5, 1754, the son of colonel john
armistead the second and his wife agnes. he led an active public life. he was praised for public service, adding that he embodied every public and private virtue which could render his life useful to his country. john left behind a considerable estate of which his son, william, was named executor. a year later in 1780, we find in the gazette the sale of 30 virginia born slaves, among whom were a good blacksmith and excellent carpenter, as well as cattle, horses, sheep, corn, fodder, and sundry other articles at the lake dwelling in new kent county. like his father john, william
led an active public life, contributed much to virginia's efforts during the american revolution. for all our research, we can't say for sure when james came to be owned by williams. james was born in 1748, and while we don't know for sure, he may have originally been owned by his father, the late john the second or another relative. the armistead family was prolific in regional, commercial, and mercantile operations, and maintained a position in kent's upper-middle-class. enslaved african-americans could do much to serve a family the likes of the armisteads. what's more, we have already seen that james could read and write. it's not outside the realm of possibility that colonel john william junior or other members of the armistead clan, who owned the taverns and other businesses in the area, would have taught james how to read and write. literate, james could assist in one of the stores owned by the armistead family.
if you are surprised they may have afforded james the education to read and write, i will add as a footnote that this was not an uncommon occurrence ini colonial virginia, and the commonwealth did not have legislation prohibiting the literacy of slaves until 1819. so regardless of how or when james came to be owned by william armistead junior, they were both uniquely positioned and incredibly well situated to meet the needs of virginians during the american revolution. you see not long after the shot heard round the world, virginia's committee of safety needed a plan of action to supply and support virginia's troops and the now sanctioned war for independence. those shots were getting closer and closer to home. for now, suffice it to say that by the fall of 1775, virginia's royal governor lord dunmore had more or less brought virginia to
the patriotic cause, and in the words of the virginia convention, he has made it necessary that an additional number of forces be raised for our protection and defense. but there is one small problem. in 1775, colonial virginia had no standing professional army nor any precedent for one, thus the virginia convention met in williamsburg to establish the means for funding a more regular army of the colon, enumerating the terms for organizing up to six regiments for the defense virginia. the convention also made allowances for them to provide clothing, feed, and supply soldiers during their service. the convention and system that each common soldier not already sufficiently provided in the opinion of his commanding officer shall be provided with sufficient clothing at the expense of the public to be deducted out of his pay and also to be allowed by the public --, binding for his hat, and require each soldier to at the expense of the public to be furnished with one good musket and
bayonet, pouch, and canteen, among other items. to accomplish this and oversee the provision of these goods to the newly established regiment, they appointed one or more contracters required to use all possible dispatch in purchasing such provisions as shall be needed for the army, this was -- the committee of safety appointed a merchant for the store, and william armistead junior was selected to act as one of his assistants. you see how this is all coming together? armistead, who had elections, may have been in waynesburg as early as 1775 as the militia mustered its capital. nevertheless, armistead assisted until he moved on to run the southern department in late 1777. at the ripe old age of 23, william armistead junior was given a promotion and became the new commissary of stores for the commonwealth of virginia. he then received a salary of 300 pounds per year plus expenses, and expenses for one servant.
we believe that servant was james. realizing that james was the assistant for william armistead and the public store which operated out of waynesburg until 1780 helps us to understand how james may have -- the marquis de lafayette. as william's servant, james surely would have accompanied him as -- excuse me -- as he coordinated the move from waynesburg to richmond in the late spring and summer of 1780, but his record notes that most that not all of william armistead's family was living in richmond and had the slave with him. four of the slaves were over the age of 16, and one of them may have been james. armistead, with the assistance of slaves, moved their goods and records of store to richmond, shipping them up river on the schooners, and the public store continued in richmond. it was selected because the general assembly presumed
richmond to be less vulnerable in an attack. the general assembly had good reason to worry. by 1779, the british army began flirting with the idea of invading virginia. in may, troops were landed in hampton road and raiding parties were sent to portsmouth and suffix, destroying warehouses and otherimportant infrastructure in attempt to cut off commerce with the west indies. governor thomas jefferson thought it was too close and voted to move the capital of up the james river to richmond. predictably, the british followed, and on january 4, 1781, benedict arnold, who had recently turned his loyalty to the british, landed with 1600 troops, including rangers and others to attack richmond.
i will give this a minute to pass. though jefferson called on patriot forces to repel the attack, they quickly broke at the site of arnold's advance. one witness wrote that about 200 virginia militiamen had opened a -- on the heights new the venerable meetinghouse of st. john's church, and a lieutenant colonel was ordered to dislodge them, but without firing a shot, they reach the summit of the hill." another described his role in the advance, to the right lay a steep hill overgrown, but was occupied by rifleman. the general pointed with his hand, that's a task made for you. the enemy left after a volley which wounded one. in 1781, arnold set richmond ablaze.
the destruction of the capital was a heavy blow to the virginia economy and its beleaguered forces. on july 18, 1781, william armistead was accused of neglecting his duties of commissary, and then thr governor quick to point out that not least of the sufferers was the marquis de lafayette, who "had nothing but bad whiskey to drink." [laughter] mrs. gruber: to compensate, he ordered to procure spirits for his personal use. so note to self, complain about that whiskey and expect a barrel of something better in return. to reinforce the patriots during the perilous situation developing in virginia, general washington had ordered the marquis de lafayette to command the forces in 1781 after arnold and his loyalists and forces ransacked and burned richmond. if you are unfamiliar with the marquis de lafayette, allow me to introduce into you now. the marquis was born into a
wealthy, aristocratic family in 1757 and deeply desired to follow in the footsteps of his family. his father had died at the hands of british, at the hands of a british cannonball in 1759, and some stirrings have postulated that he broke his support of the american cause and his eagerness his eagerness to serve washington even without pay may have driven him to return the cannonball to the british. his desire was met with substantial resistance in france. but in 1977, washington and lafayette immediately formed a bond. they first met in september 11, 1977 and was shot the leg. he was he recuperated he joined washington at valley forge. france signed treaties of peace with the united states throwing
soldiers behind the patriot cause. later that year washington gave him a hero's welcome. after being placed under house arrest, this gave him time to father a son whom he named george washington lafayette, so all is well that ends well. he was hoping to use his time in france to convince king louie to invade. this idea failed to manifest and he turned his attention to other causes. of he boarded a ship 1780 called laramion and i'm sure you haven't heard of that before. he arrived back in america in 1780.
he languished in new jersey with little to no attention and action until washington ordered lafayette to round up his troops in the early months of 1781 with the clear directive to trapt benedict arnold and deliver him a fate surely worse than death, actually just death. after his arrival in virginia a bad situation got much worse. by may, the general arrived in virginia by way of new york as a result of his capture at the battle of sar toga in 1777. although still not 100% sure of his end game or surely to ren force the troops he was sent to rendezvous with phillips. however fill limbs became violently ill but not before destroying the virginian naval yard on the river and participating on the attack in st. petersburg.
washington sent forces turned command of de lafayette and phillips succumbed to his illness which was probably malaria but not before turning all command to benedict arnold. now combined with washington's men -- corn wallace's men, that's a terrible thing to confuse. the british army in virginia numbered some 7,000 seasoned veteran. he pursued the marquis de lafayette who returned north ward to fredricksburg. but he still embarked on a plan to parallel corn wallace's movements which turned eastward and burned ordinary which if you're familiar with the area -- lafayette was close by and carped in a plantation about 20 miles from williamsburg.
the marquis wrote to governor nelson that on june 23rd, corn wallace had been at the courthouse and birds or nair and were on his way to williamsburg. but they engaged anthony gains lyon at spencer's ordinary. lafayette received word that corn wallace received reinforcement and grew increasingly confirmed his forces. he only amassed 1900 continentals and 3,000 militia and that's far cry from the 7,000 british man force under arnold and corn wallace. it's clear that if he wasn't before, lafayette was deeply concerned and wanted to maximize his resources to give patriots every possible advantage and whatever was brewing. he considered raising 150 african americans to proceed the main line's advance in addition to 100 corps wagners.
in addition to beefing up his own sources laugh fayeth was eager to learn more about corn wallace's movements an intentions. on july 31, lafayette penned a letter general george washington. a servant of mineys on the 26th of july and says that his master tarleton and similarco are till? town by experted to move. speaking of corn wallace, his lordship is shy of his papers that his honest friends said he cannot get at them. we read the first espionage which resulted in the world turned upside down. i want to clarify something here before we continue. going by just the facts, the historical record does not provide much information about james's actual activitieses as a spy. what we learn is documents that survived from james' own post
war petition for his own liberty and support. i mentioned before that much of what we come to accept of his activities as a spy is base on 200 years of con jeckchure. -- of conjecture. what you'll hear for a while may hear like a bunch of 'em qualifiers, maybe, probably, and could have and that's because for a lot of us we just don't know. we can never know for certain. we just have the documentation and primary source material regarding james' activity. we need that documentation to be more precise. please bear with me as we look at his experimentation and explore him within the con tech within -- within the contextual bound besides how many spies really leave a paper trail? well, we can't say for sure when and where james and the mar i -- and the marquis lafayette
became acated. perhaps it was in williamsburg. or in richmond to supply force under the command of de lafayette. he spent a great deal of time in the spring and summer of 1871 in and aren't new kent county. james's old stomping grounds. he might have encountered james there. regardless of when or where they , became acquainted. james is a willing volunteer to the patriot cause. according to his december 4, 1784 petition he wanted liberty. , and once convinced that if he rendered any essential services to the public that would be his reward. james volunteered his services to the marquis de lafayette expecting his own freedom as a rufment he received the permission of his master before
1781 and infiltrated corn wall's camp. according to the documentary record is that he did it. and according to his 1786 petition for freedom james described as a slave belonging to william armised entered the key lafayette. he found means to frequent the british camp. while we don't know for sure, james might have entered enemy lines turned guidance of a forger collecting and distributing food as pro curing it for the british head quarters. this would allow him seamless and regularen access to regular camps. james could have passed himself as a run away slave eering to secure asylum and emancipation.
one said that thousands of runaway slaves reached their camps. james could have easily blended into that population and may have had the freedom of movement that way to pass between the patriot and british lines. maybe referring to james or another spy, lafayette described an informant of servant to corn wallace. it's not uncommon for british soldiers to have servants. he said every servant had his negro and that officers had three or four as well as one or two for a cook and a made if james or another patriot spy spent any time behind the patriot lines acting as servant for cornwallis the possibilities could be endless. a servant to cornwallis could have accompanied him anywhere viewing the size of troops, supplies and even morale. in washington's letter, he went
on to give us a clue as to why this may have been gathering intelligence. after communicating intelligence to washington, washington wrote, my accounts are later than the fellow's i pissle. but as the servant has opportunities to hear i thought it was worth communicating to your excellency. a servant has opportunities to hear. that's awe pore we are line in our understanding of how james and others may have gathered intelligence to the patriot cause. what's a familiar face behind british lines, james could have been present under countless strategies. overheard chitchat while he was driving raw goods or supplies. who would have paid any attention to the attendant in the choir or the slave wauning through camp. and what's more who would have , suspected that james was actually listening memorizing numbers, directions or concerns.
and who would have guessed that he was literate and could record his observation and take notes of the conversations perhaps glancing at important papers or charts passing them through espionage and while we can't say for sure exactly how james functioned ne the british camp, he must have bim a familiar face or blend into the crowd hovering under everyone's radar. hence my ultimate talks indivisible spy. what reason would corn wallace have to question even for a moment james's own loyalty or his presence many the camp? what reason would anyone suspect that he would have been a spy. that his presence was anything
other than innocent. so we've explored some possibilities of how james may have come by the information. but the record does not reveal how he conveyed his noffings the marquis. it's possible that if he left for forging or fatigue duties james could sneak out of the british camp and return to lafayette himself relaying information simply by meeting to the british camp. another likely possibility is that james was an extremely important element in a larger network of espionage in 1781 utilizing white soldier and slaves. he would have worked with them passing notes or finding other ways of communicating with each other. one of these compatriots may have been a soldier known simply as morgan the new jersey line.
morgan's story appears as an anecdotal footwork. first published in new york in 1837. i it seems that lafayette desired a faithful and intelligent soldier under the guise of the strug he who could ingratiate with himself and corn wallace. and an enslaved african-american serving in virginia was sent behind enemy lines josiah parker. so it's far from the truth to assume that james is the only spy for lafayette and the patriot forces but i for one thinks that this makes a much more interesting story and think that hollywood should pick this up for a major action drama, don't you? james' 1781 testimony of his actions during war lens creedones the possibility that -- one's credence to the
possibility that he acted as a most -- completely lost my spot, please. talk amongst yourselves. [laughter] >> let's try that sentence again. james's 1886 testimony plays agree dance to that he risked his life to freekt the british camp by which means he candidate channel open of the most useful communication of the army of the state. and furtherer that at various times he can evade enclosures into enemy lines of the most secret and important kind the possession of which what -- would have endangered his life. letters to general washington help us understand the type of information that james was able to gather on relay in a let tore washington dated july 31st, 1781. pary wrote to his position. lafayette learned that the
greatest part of the enemy is embarked there's a large quantityy of knee grews. what garrison they leave, do i not know. lafayette continued to washington. should a french fleet come in hampton road, the british army would be hours. further lafayette wrote to washington that he received some intelligences by way of this servant i have once mentioned. a very sensual fellow was with him. i hear that he began fort fight new york. he described the british position at work town enumerating the numbers that they sail into the river at gloucester and even the fact that a large number of british soldiers were ill. but information gathered from spice please we have the ability bod yid fighting force actability 417 rank-and-file.
-- force at about 4500 rank-and-file. the french fleet under admiral degraw arrived and the rest as they say is history. of cornwallis's surrounder in july 17, 1781 end his campaign and also ended his work as a spy in all likelihood james returned to his plaster william armised jr., who was still in charge. according to the sentences take on the city of richmond, then 28-year-old armistead perhaps his wife or sister. four slaves turnover age of 16. three younger slaves and two ors. a the household left richmond he would have returned to the plan nation. perhaps realizing that the institution of slavery was
,nconsistent with the values the virginia general assembly passed a lot that would allow them to play. -- them to emancipate their slaves either by request or a deed. further in october 1783 virginia , brought into law free slaves whoa had served in the military. they cited that anyone who contributed towards the establishment of the american liberty and independence should enjoy the blessings of freedom as a reward for their toils. it's important to note for our discussion of james, that the 1783 legislation only granted for nil regiment or core within the state. or those who had served as substitute for any free person. remember that he did not register with any militia. her did not wear uniform or a gun. he risked his life in the
service of his country and the law did not apply to him. james was not eligible for automatic emancipation but the law provided that slaves could be freed by demonstrating that they had performed mar tores you -- performed meritorious service which is just what james is set time-out do. if he was still acting as personal service it's likely that he accompanied him for this session that ran 1984 until -- from october 1784 until early january. he was likely elected as a representative after the war. it's also likely that james was in richmond on november 24th, when the marquises visited the state capital. there lafayette wrote a testimony ya'll on behalf of -- testimonial on behalf of james' service to the country. lafayette wrote and don't worry, i'm going to read this. no one's had that much coffee yes. this is to certify that the bearer by the name james had done essential services to me while i had the on nor to commitment his intel jousely
conducted and faithfully delivered. he perfectly acquitted himself of the important commissions i gave him and appears to me and titled to every reward his situation can admit of. almost immediately lafayette's testimonial of james's meritorious service in the house in richmond. they recorded the petition on department 4th. a free grow slave setting fourth that by the most earnest desire is is so deer. and convinced that he ran any essential services that he would be -- that that would be his reward. he entered into the enemy's camp and collected such intelligence and which he conveyed in the , to theeditious manner lafayette who then commanded the
american nearm virginia and praying that an act has had and that a reasonable compensation that he made for him for. under the provision, james would ask the vbling house of delegates for his freedom. get ready for a shock. in 1784 james did not receive his freedom and it's unclear why. the delegates found some reason to reject the slime or the poe tension was. -- the claim or the petition was tabled before the house adjourned. james only had one option -- to try again. this is someone's life we are talking about. i want to remind us of that. james submitted another position. in october, they granted his freedom. be it therefore enacted that the from and after the passing of this act enjoy all freedom as if he had been born free. on february 7, 1787, mr. james was appointed there.
and to certifyd valuation of the auditors. sometime in the early months of 1787 clayton determined an important value for james and pay him out of the state's general furned. legislation passed, payment signed, sealing and delivered. and james was a free man. in the new kent county tax assessor and listed him as the head of his house. this morning i'm sharing with you about some details. carefully uncovered by our research team this summer. he was in the tax assessment because he was responsible for paying personal property taxes on behalf of himself and those that he owed on his other mens of his household. the 1787 assessment held us but he included two slaves. and one slave under the age of 16.
he also paid taxes on ors, mars or coults. his assessment said sizable plane tafment dock men is silent on how james acquired the money to pay for taxes. virginia mission laws stated that former slaves who failed to pay their personal property taxes could be hired out until their debt was satisfied or risk being re-enslaved if they could not pay. while the identities of the slave on james faye yeth's tax assessment from 1787 until 1804. from 1787 to 1804, the number of dflow.ebb an interestingly, by 1810, james's household included 11 three blacks. -- 11 free blacks.
perhaps that he was owing others to live on the property. in 1813 the ax assess sorry come pined a list. he included james lafayette and his wife. five years later, sylvia lafayette was identified at the free black female head of the household. i got this great e-mail from one of our historian who is said her name was sylvia. it was an amazing moment. you may be asking yourself if he was granted his freedom and listed as a head of household included individuals listed as slaves, likely children, why would he not granted children their freedom? it is complicated. james's own manufactures occurred at a the time. law whichhat the 1622 dictated that the status of the mother is also the status of the child was still on the books.
therefore any children that they ,ad well sylvia was a slave according to the law, were also enslaved. the laws governing free blacks were strict and invasive. as early as 1792 all free blacks were required to register and pay $.25 for a certificate of registration. in 1806, the laws are even more severe. the legislature did not allow private missions and required every enslaved african american freed after 1806 to leave the state within one year under pain of being re-enslaved. free blacks were heavily taxed and those who could not pay rent the risk of being re-of slaves if their former owner could not pay. these are the constraints in which newly emancipated james lafayette found himself.
in the early years of 19th-century virginia, i have to wonder how free was free. appears on the record as owning 40 acres of land that had previously been part of a woodward's state. estate.ard the effective value was $41.70, while the remaining was valued at $13.90. even though he paid taxes on his property, he was absent from the tax list from 1817 to 1820, perhaps because he was working for someone else who pay taxes. not that it isn't a bustling metropolis, but perhaps from left the county
looking for better opportunities to earn money, perhaps as a domestic servant or skilled laborer. james had ample acreage to form. o farm. the tax assessor went so far to describe his 40 acres as lightbroken and much worn. applied for a state pension, citing his a prevention service, which he cited was valuable enough to earn him his freedom, for which james's heart will ever be filled with gratitude so long as his blood runs warm. he was getting old and feeling the years creep up. he continued a natural decline of bodily powers and for years found it hard to acquire labor, and feeling the powers to decline he fears that without it
he will no longer be able to procure the necessities of life. he further asked for a small pension and signed his name james lafayette. the assembly awarded him a pension of $3.33 per month, or a lump sum of $20 every six months. he traveled to richmond to collect his payments every six months, visiting the state auditor's office and signing his name as james fayette. in 1824, an incredible thing happened to the united states, an invitation from president james monroe, welcoming back general lafayette on the eve of the nation's 50th birthday. the marquis, now the last surviving general of the american revolution, embarked on a farewell tour of the country he passionately helped to establish. a bona fide rockstar in 1824, he arrived to an estimated 80,000
screaming fans. because i never get sick of this analogy, let's do a population analysis. you're reading that right. statistically speaking, more people showed up for the arrival of lafayette in new york than when the beatles showed up in 1964. who's the rockstar now? you're probably wondering what this has to do with james. news of his tour was widely publicized and greatly anticipated. he had stops planned for nearly every battlefield in every major city. he had a special stop at the spot of the siege of yorktown. james wanted to see his on friend one last time edward got around. an article was run, "a veteran
negro," telling the story of a venerable and respected freemen who occasionally visits to receive his pension. the article recounted how the marquis had personally attested to his service in the late war, and that he expressed a great desire to see the marqueis at yorktown, but it's believed he's too poor to equip himself without aide. "without the recognition of this faithful old negro at the scene --"is most former glory historians disagree if it happened at yorktown or richmond, but he got to see him one last time. it's reported that during one of the parades, james was "recognized by lafayette," called to him by name and taken him into embrace. combined with the patriotic fervor, his story had pulled at
the heartstrings of virginians. it was around this time that a richmond-based artist preserved in an oil. you can visit that at a museum. they got hold of the original affidavit from 1784. he had a black and white engraving. he sold the bills and many of them are floating around around the country. like his friend the marquis, he had become a folk hero. the public fascination and on there.not end there was a novel written called "edge hill" about the american revolution. heath, who served as a state auditor during the time he got his pension, says they struck up a conversation, and
was featured as a main character. in the novel, he is a spy for lafayette, the little else is based on historical fact. he included a scene where he's reunited with lafayette. we'll never know how accurate it is, but just for fun, here are some of my favorite descriptions of james. swift-footed, impatient of fatigue." "shrewd and observing." "mimy personal favorite, ghty sassy." [applause] [laughter] >> for all the interest, he died quietly. he got his final pension payment on march 19, 1830 iand passed away in august. a free man ofn, he waswas testified that
well acquainted with him and said that james died in the city of baltimore. we don't know how he died. someone was granted the $16 balance on his pension but we don't know who. his property had been transferred. the property continued to be attributed to the estate through the 19th century, and with that, the documentary record of james lafayette, his contributions to american independence, and his special relationship with the marquis, grow cold. but happily his legacy continues. as i mentioned previously, thanks to the wonderful research we now have, he will be featured in the american revolution museum at yorktown.
its opening in june of 2017. it will have surprising stories about the veteran and his contributions to the american revolution after the american evil asian. -- the american evil lucia afteolution after the american revolution. ordinary men and women like james risked everything for the pursuit of liberty. twe are gathered together today because of the hair was of, patriotism, and acts of daring committed by real people like we canafayette, and make sure that he along with his contribution is no longer invisible. thank you very much. [applause] >> and now, the fun part begins. i once asked you the first
question and then we will open it up. something i don't think you addressed quite enough -- we need to make sure we touch upon this. when does the museum open? [laughter] >> let me make sure everyone can hear -- october 15, 2016. >> exactly. that's my only question. >> i'll pay you later. >> we have several mics moving around. >> i will take the second question. thank you forae, sharing your breaking research. it's fun to get breaking news from centuries ago. we talked on the phone about the interesting thing -- why not volunteer for the british, if they are going to free you? to stick with the patriots and that petition for freedom -- could you address that? >> i am very careful that i
don't want to put words in his mouth, because we do know that he said in his application for mission that he volunteered to join the service of the marquis lafayette, because he understood that his own freedom and liberty would be his reward. at some point i think there had to have been an understanding. but i also want to remind everybody that the conclusion of this war, and like i said before, hindsight is 2020 -- they didn't have that. another this was a foregone conclusion that the patriots would win,. it could have happened either way, especially in 1781, when he gets involved in the patriot cause. things were not looking super awesome. 7000 athe british at hampton roads, and the marquis did not have that. they think james may have had this relationship, had something
to do with his service, maybe he had some kind of internal notion, that this is how he felt, or it was his best bet at gaining freedom. and also the british had suffered quite terribly -- the is waived african-americans who went to the british, they has suffered horribly, and many of them died of smallpox and had been completely turned out by cornwallis's army by the time they got to yorktown. werey quote says, there thousands of former slaves that ran to cornwallis turning him out because they couldn't support their own soldiers. british as a tactic in the war promised freedom to the slaves who would abscond. we cited the fact that they were playing this game -- obviously,
it led to the south during the revolution. the question is whether or not this was truly -- this is before they had emancipation in england -- the question is whether or not this tactic on their part was truly counterproductive. it obviously was not enough to get james lafayette to sign. he was playing his ankle to get freedom from the americans. tactic --l, was this which led to lots of african-americans to going to halifax -- whether this was truly counterproductive for the british to have ever played this game. >> there's a really great book that talks about the patriot angle to that. i wonder if he referenced the
british side. proclaims, november 1, 1775, that and he enslaved or indentured servant of a rebel patriot who found his way to the british lines would be freed. then you have the phillipsburg proclamation, and all these enslaved african-americans running to the british lines. i think you are probably right that it was probably counterproductive, because there was a huge supply problem. the slaves who reached cornwallis were being turned away or left and deserted to their own means. i'm not sure that this was really thought out. how are we going to support this population? what are they going to do for us? will we treat them the same way we treat our own rank-and-file?
i think there is some complicated fall out there. we will have to see if we can find better answers for that. >> thank you. >> a wonderful talk. is there any record of comparable spying for the british by escaped slaves? surely this must have happened, but i have never heard of it before. >> i have to admit, that wasn't part of my research for this particular talk. i would love to see if i could find that answer for you. i'm sure there were. but again, outside the scope. i was more focused on how does james fit within the broader network, and how was lafayette using people like james for espionage. but i did look at the flipside. >> thank you again, and
excellent talk. thanks for the preparation. you mentioned that his wife's name was sylvia, and at least for the first few years their children were slaves. did they continued to be slaves, or was he paying taxes on his kids to show they were slaves? >> we don't know for sure if the slaves that were under 16 -- we don't konow that they were children. they might be, but like anything else, we can't say absolutely for sure. the best we can do is follow up with the tax assessor's records, and note how the numbers progressed, for whom he is paying taxes on. ebb and flow.at an i'm afraidtype
we may never know the answer to that question. his estate goes to someone. whoever is managing his estate after his death, we tried to follow up with genealogy to see if he had children but we can't find anyone in the historic record with the last name lafayette or fayette. we searched both to see where his defendants went, what became of them, and the trail ran cold, unfortunately. yes, once again, excellent talk. i may have misunderstood the name, but it sounded to me like
the land james lafayette was adjacent to or part of -- >> william tyree. >> the plantation where marquis to lafayette was headquartered. so did the marquis have any influence -- have you been able to find tea had any influence on james lafayette getting that? >> these are all fantastic questions that i desperately wish i had the answer to, but i can only respond to what the documentary record shows, and we don't have that information. you are right, this is the same neighborhood, if you will, wear the marquee spent a lot of time in the summer of 1781. we also think it was close to william armistead.
there is secondary research that suggests the property line, the ons james may have grown up -- i think we need to do more research, but new kent county was a burnt county, so think all your civil war buffs for that. we don't have a lot of documentary evidence for a lot of things i would answer these questions. >> we have certainly seen during the civil war that the confederacy enormously underestimated the degree to which blacks were sources of intelligence for the union side. britishextent did the regard blacks? in other words, in any concept, someone caught spying would be hanged. -- what do we know about the degree to which the british forces, the british came to suspect blacks were spies for the rebels?
was black, repeatedly in there, plywood and t fall under suspicion? >> the way i look at it -- going back to the idea of being officer,, if you're an you are used to having these people around you, serving you, you may have grown up that way. stereotypee of the of his race and division, i really don't think there was a lot to give suspicion to his presence in a camp or close toers or being cornwallis's papers. there is secondary research that suggests that maybe somebody else, another african-american posing as a servant, was able to rifle through some papers. we had that great quote that
says he guards his papers believed there's was someone in his camp trying to get out his papers. i'm not sure cornwallis or anyone else would say, hey, i wonder what they're looking for. i just think the nature of who he was, i think he flew under the radar. that might be a broader question for espionage. it's a little outside my wheelhouse. >> a question on your museum. when visit opening -- when is it opening? >> you would think i plan to these people. we have a soft opening on october 15, and grand opening in the spring. the soft opening is right before yorktown day, october 15 and 16. if i didn't mention, we are the
jamestown-yorktown foundation. we operate the jamestown settlement, and we have the we'rebeautiful ships, and transitioning from the yorktown victory center to the american revolution center on october 15 and 16. >> one general question about things that don't get seen. we're finally going to recognize the key contribution the french played at yorktown? it always seemed to be downplayed. >> as ain -- ? , they were 50% of the troops -- >> i invite you to explore that at the museum. the french contribution to the war were incredibly important, and we will discuss that story.
i invite you to come see us and learn more. here. don't we go right that he had got permission from william armistead, who worked for lafayette. i'm wondering, is there any indication that william supported this bid for freedom? >> for james's freedom? james his own personal freedom? way i can answer your question is to remember that james -- sorry, william armistead, jr. was compensated for the loss of james when's freedom was finally granted by the commonwealth.
an assessor to deem the appropriate value at the time of his emancipation, and william, his former owner, was paid out of the state general fund. so whether or not he supported the loss of james on a more emotional or intellectual level, he was still paid for him. james was property. kate.at talk, i want to borrow that beatles slide, if i could. can you tell us the other individuals you will highlight in the changing exhibition coming up? >> i swear, i didn't -- sure. in june of 2017, we are opening a 5000 square foot special exhibition in our new museum. we'reames lafayette,
highlighting other important veterans of the season yorktown. the marquis delivery at is a -- de lafayette, lafayett marquis alexander hamilton. that ie is welcome didn't sing that line. the exhibit is going to tell some surprising stories about the veterans you thought you knew, and look at them through the lens of their lives as veterans. what happens when you walk off the battlefield? your contributions are not over but you continue to bring everything you brought to the battlefield, that continues to play the important role in in your life and in the growth of our nation. something we are excited to do is to expand our chronology.
of the permanent gallery will take you to 1790, the first federal census. but afterwards it will go all the way to present day, and we are excited to talk about the lafayette drill. really being able to make those connections between the past and present and show you the american revolution and the war fought by these veterans -- you are part of that legacy today, and we see that legacy all around us. we invite you to come after you check out the soft opening in october. thank you. great question. >> you mentioned that 100% of but hips were french, congress did authorize a revolutionary navy during the revolutionary war. to what extentg,
is the u.s. navy historically dependent on and grateful to our the french navy before yorktown? i'm trying to remember where in my talk i mentioned -- other than he did bring the french ships. forave to credit henry knox the real development of the united states navy after the revolution, in commissioning ships, where the united states became a naval power. i don't know if i am answering your question well, but we didn't have the naval power that we do today. think ily, but -- i know what you are referring to, that we had naval stores, but
not something like the united states navy today. >> thank you. excellent talk. i'm sure you are aware and everyone in this room is aware, museum inaugurated the of african american history and culture, and an observation is whether you plan to share with them this research. you have an interested audience there as well. >> we would love to. if you have a business card you would like to float in my direction. likeink that collaboration what we are doing today is important for everyone. while we technically owned this research, this is everyone's legacy and story, and i think we are all mutually excited to
interpret it and use it in our own interpretations of our missions as well. we'd be happy to continue the conversation with other institutions. >> and if they don't want to tell a story, we will be happy to. >> that's a good point, and i hope i am not speaking out of turn, that the national spy museum will feature james lafayette in their new installation as well. >> opening summer, 2018. [laughter] you, what wasar that? >> late spring, 2018. there.ight >> the information he passed on -- with any of it has beeave been there. coded? >> i have to get back to that slide of the facts we don't know. there is some secondary source information that suggests things
were written down in code, and if i could find it -- coded? say -- it wases likely he could have been found with communication on this person. that leads me to infer that he had something written down. i don't know if it was coded, or in what manner it was written, but that leads me to believe there was some kind of physical something that he was physically passing to other -- i don't want to say agents, to other actors, to other leaders. correction about the u.s. navy. the coast guard was founded in 1790 by alexander hamilton. it's the second oldest
continuous naval service, next to the marine corps. the navy was under jefferson. >> i think you two should probably go have lunch. [laughter] >> i encourage the conversation to continue. >> we have time for one more. >> hi. that signature -- when does that date? 1820's.later, in the when we find my transcription, just so i'm not -- i believe this is from when he collected with his pensions. after 1818 -- there is. t is. >> so that for you is an
indication that he was literate. i just wondered -- that has spy andon his being a what he might have been able to do. so i'm wondering how unusual is that, for this period, that he would have been literate? we knew he could sign his name, and that by 1822 he was literate. i wonder if you could put that in context. >> right, sure. like i said, it wasn't illegal for someone who was enslaved to be taught how to read or write until 1819. uncommonally not that for someone at james's age to be literate. we also know, because we went back and saw he was helping his master in the public store, and that is my pet project i started
years ago, it was interesting to me, that these research questions exploded together. part of what i have done as a library fellow was to start transcribing the records and records and records of the williamsburg public store. the paper trail for the transactions of supplying virginia's troops is endless. i can stand up here and tell you it is endless. and because of that paper trail -- and we see that james was acting as a servant to william while he was procuring supplies and writing receives and taking care -- there's a journal, cashbook, ledger for every year the store was in operation. i think that james being of who hes indicative
is working with and where he is working and how he is assisting his owner. the armisteads are prolific. history.org, navigate through all of that, and finds the gazette. just look at all the advertisements and the notes from the armistead family. just look at william armistead, jr. prolific in the mercantile business. we think, again, if he wasn't originally owned by armistead, which he probably wasn't, it's likely that he was assisting another member of the family involved in all these activities, which would really help, if they had somebody that could read and write. i hope this was a
contextualization -- it's really not all that uncommon for him to know how to read and write. >> let me wrap this up by commending you and your colleagues for the work you are doing. it's hard enough to get current information, even from the last 20 or 30 years, on intelligence operations. and things that you can find could be misleading. we have to looking at armistead for quite some time, and it is nice to see there is new information aout there. this story is as sexy as it ever was, double agent or not, so kudos to you and what your colleagues are doing. please join me in thanking tape rumo kate brewer. book, butis not yet a we'll hope ot see it sometime.
if you want to think about buying anything, there's a lot of interesting stuff we have available, including the book for our speaker next week. thankher than that, we you all for coming, and we look forward to seeing you all next wednesday. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] >> you are watching american history tv, i'll weekend, every weekend, on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. artifacts american takes you to museums and historic places. we visited woodrow wilson's house in washington dc, where the 28th president retired in